Posts Tagged ‘scientific integrity’

Business Leaders Grill DEP Commissioner and Key Legislators

October 9th, 2009 No comments

[Update: There were about 30 empty seats in the back and there weren’t many builder types at the NJBIA event. Chris Christie had a NJ Builders Assc. event the same day. I wonder what Christie promised the Builders? Were those empty seats builders? Or did the entire corporate crowd just migrate from the NJBIA breakfast to the NJBA luncheon?]

NJ Business and Industry leaders met behind closed doors today at posh Forsgate Country Club to press for more concessions on key environmental regulations to promote economic development.
DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello speaks to NJBIA at Forsgate CC

DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello (C) speaks to NJBIA at Forsgate CC – Senate Environment Committee Chair Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) (R) and Dave Brogan (NJBIA) (L)

The NJ BIA event, dubbed “Meet the Decision Makers” featured a panel discussion with DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello, Senate Environment Committee Chairman Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), Assembly Environment Committee Chairman John McKeon (D-Essex), and Senator Kip Bateman (R-Somerset).

This kind of event – just weeks before a Gubernatorial election – is designed to send a clear political message to DEP to back off enforcement and to continue to weaken environmental regulations to promote economic development. It is another example of how powerful lobbyists for special interests are granted preferential high level access and are able to work behind the scenes to influence policy, gut environmental protections, and politicize science.

At a time when DEP budgets are slashed, work related travel eliminated, and the undue political influence of special interests is the focus of ethics and corruption investigations across the state, this event sends exactly the wrong message.

A September 28, 2009 email by DEP legislative aid John Hazen – who reports to Mauriello – reveals that Senator Smith demanded specific DEP replies to a series of questions to advance the NJBIA agenda.

DEP Hazen (R) confers with Senators Smith (L) and Bucco (back facing) before Senate Environment Committee hearing (5/19/08)

DEP Hazen (R) confers with Senators Smith (L) and Bucco (back facing) before Senate Environment Committee hearing (5/19/08)

Hazen solicited responses from DEP staffers to the following questions posed by NJBIA and conveyed to DEP by Smith:

John Hazen 9/28/2009 11:50 AM >>>

On October 9th NJBIA will be hosting Commissioner Mark Mauriello, Senator Bob Smith, Assemblyman John Mckeon And Senator Kip Bateman For A “Meet The Decision Makers Event”.

In preparation, Senator Smith’s office has contacted me to see if we can provide him with some background/briefing/info to answer the following questions. Can you please review the following and get back to me with a brief writeup on your respective topics? Thanks.

1. What are your goals going forward, not only in the Lame Duck Session, but beyond?

2. What is the status of the Licensed Site Remediation Professional program?  How many temporary licenses have been issued?  What is the status of the board?

3. What is the status of the Water Quality Management Planning process? Where have you seen problems?  How are you dealing with the conflicts arising from the sewer service area maps the department is using?

4. What is the status of the Science Advisory Board?  What are the first few issues you see them tackling?

5. If the bond act fails, do you see the need for an immediate stable source of funding for open space and farmland preservation?  If the bond act passes are you still contemplating a water tax?

6. As companies do a better job at lowering emissions, what are the challenges you see in funding the Title V program? Is it fair to raise fees on companies that are taking steps to lower emissions and improve the overall air quality of the State?

7. What is the status of the State Water Supply Master Plan?

I managed to crash the event and below report the following discussion that ensued. This can give you a sense of the business community’s concerns.

Overall, I was disappointed but not surprised by the lack of vision or leadership on the environment.

former Governor Jim Florio was in attendance

former Governor Jim Florio was in attendance

I was appalled by how willing both DEP Commissioner Mauriello and legislators were to accommodate business demands.

I was shocked by Senator Smith’s remarks about stealing property, property rights, and an all out attack on new DEP Water Quality Management Planning rules. And I was embarrassed by the juvenile bashing and personal attacks on colleagues Dave Pringle and Jeff Tittel.

Following short introductory statements by the panelists, a question (Q) and answer (A) session took Place. Here is a summary.

1. Licensed Site Professionals (LSP) (this new program got the most discussion. NJBIA distributed a fact sheet to members. Here are EPA audits and our take on SRP and LSP)

What is the status? How many license applications?

A: (Mauriello) Irene Kropp has done a wonderful job in developing an entire new program. Nothing being done in the dark behind closed doors – open and transparent process, listening to stakeholders and advisory groups. Looking forward to looking the skeptics in the eye when the program is working  About 90 applications submitted, 35 approved. Seeking guidance from the Governor’s Office on LSP Board appointments. Program takes effect Nov. 3, 2009 D Day. Good news for the environment and really good news for the regulated community.

2. What is the status of proposed rules to delist Cooper’s Hawk as a threatened species? A $40 million project is being held up. Additional projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars are being held up. Economy can’t afford that. DEP drafted rules years ago, but has not proposed. When will DEP propose these rules?

A: (Maurielo) I am familiar with your project. Thanks for the fax describing it. DEP draft rules undergoing legal review. Very close to proposal “expect proposal in next few months. In the meantime, what can the DEP do to expedite your project? Perhaps you should apply for other permits – we will issue.

3. What is status of Science Advisory Board (SAB)? (see this for background on SAB)

A: (Mauriello) The SAB was modeled on EPA SAB. Don’t know if you read blogs [Note: clearly a reference to this post], but our critics are wrong “ lots of scientific talent in NJ. I’ve made it clear that SAB will not review standards or drive policy.  160 scientists nominated or self nominated. Despite what blogs say, I had only my first meeting last week with DEP scientists to discuss SAB. Haven’t reviewed names of candidates. (Despite what the blogs say). Looking for diversity and balance.”

4. What is the status of the Report mandated by the Global Warming Response Act and development of regulations to implement the Global Warming Response Act (GWRA)?

A: (Mauriello) GWRA a bold law, but real work needs to be done. DEP implementing RGGI (20% portion of $60 million revenue) on forest and marsh sequestration. 300 application for funding under review. Staff are reviewing comments on the draft report. We just proposed new CAFRA rules to promote solar and wind. Final Report upcoming. No real regulatory focus, more incentives.

5. What is the status of the Water Supply Master Plan? Why doesn’t NJ go back to US Supreme Court on DRBC allocations, which are unfair to NJ?

A: (misunderstood the question, spent 5 minutes outlining USACOE flood data and reservoir storage; flood hazard regulations; and stream upgrades).

Q: Followup: You misunderstood my question “ I am concerned about WSMP science and  models that determine safe yields and 1983 DRBC agreement. Current plan uses 25 year old data.

(there was a later follow-up question on WSMP)

A: (Mauriello) Draft final WSM plan is close. Delayed because DEP waited for new USGS data/model. Plan will identify new population projection growth based surplus/deficit areas, as well as what we need to do to transfer water to deficit areas. “We don’t tell people how to manage water“ purveyors have lots of expertise. We try to provide tools for management.

6. Would you support an extension of the Permit Extension Act, which expires in June 2010? Is such a bill likely to move in lame duck?

A: Smith: Yes

McKeon: Yes

Bateman: Yes

Tavit Najarian, consultant, asks about TMDL and DEP's proposed new phoshorus stanadards

Tavit Najarian, consultant, asks about TMDLs and DEP's proposed new phosphorus water quality standards

7. The Clean Water Act’s Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program lacks a sound scientific basis. DEP just revised the basis for the phosphorus standard from a numeric to a narrative basis. Why? How will this change impact TMDL’s already finished and under development?

A: (Mauriello – did not answer the questions). I agree that TMDL is inefficient and ineffective basis for setting permit discharge limits.  I am looking at the entire TMDL program. DEP spends a lot of time and money developing TMDLs, and then litigating them in court. DEP must then face administrative appeals of permits when the TMDLs are used and incorporated in discharge permits.  The TMDL program will be the first issue I charge the SAB to look into. I am sure that my science staff will hear about that in less than an hour (laughter).

8. What can DEP and legislators do to stop job loss and loss of production (e.g. recent Sunoco refinery closure)?

A: Smith – We shouldn’t be the problem

A: McKeon – that’s a complex question involving taxes and labor and the needs of a densely populated state of 9 million people. It will always be more expensive to live in NJ. We can work to expedite permits, but will not look the other way and compromise environmental protections which is short sighted and will poison the future of the state and make it an economic wasteland.

9. Solar panels are considered impervious surface which discourages installation. Why? We need guidance from DEP of new definition of impervious cover to stimulate solar on the ground.

A: (Mauriello) DEP doesn’t have statewide jurisdiction over IC – in CAFRA and Highlands yes. MLUL has inconsistent definitions too. Governor Corzine has directed me to make accommodations for renewable energy.

A: (Smith)  – you need a bill to define IC. I will be introducing a bill soon to do that.

10. How can DEP promote sequestration of carbon in forests on private lands?

A: (Smith) – support S713 Forest stewardship plans as opposed to Forest Management Plans

11. Politics

a) Endorsements – What’s up with environmental groups endorsements? None backed Governor. Can we expect more surprises from them? (lot’s of laughter and jokes about Jeff Tittel and Dave Pringle)

A: Smith: “Anyone here in love with Jeff Tittel, please stand up”

Live by the sword, be prepared to die by the sword

A: Bateman: Give Dave Pringle credit.

A: McKeon: DEP has been reasonable on regulations, which is why the environmental groups don’t support the governor. If Corzine wins, the groups that didn’t endorse will lose influence and credibility. This will harm the environment because environmental groups will be perceived as paper tigers unable to influence voters and the public. This makes it harder to pass pro-environmental legislation or DEP initiatives. A set back for the environment.

A; Smith – Disagree with Bateman. Tittel/Pringle opposed LSP.  Gov. did the right thing and took them on. There are 200+ environmental groups that disagree with Tittle/Pringle but can’t speak out due to 501C3 status. There are many other groups that support the Gov. but won’t speak out because they are afraid of Tittel/Pringle. 

b) Anti-business climate – what can be done? DEP has worked extremely well with EDA and Gerold Zarro in Gov. Office. What more can be done?

c) Water Quality Management Planning rules – ant-development, takings and property rights

Smith went off. Big problem with WQMP rules. DEP planning to designate areas as non-sewer service areas based on old flawed maps and without knowledge or consent of land owners. This will shut down development. Big problem for land owners, builders, developers. In designated NSSA, are dead meat. My biggest beef is that this steals property rights “ we did it in the Highlands. This is unfair to property owners. All these land owners whose land is about to be designated NSSA should be aware. Oh, we’re careful not to trigger a legal taking, but we come close and steal property rights. DEP maps and aerial photos are flawed. Site in my district whre a COAH project is designated NSSA. I support Sarlo bill to place 2 year moratorium on implementation of new WQMP rules. Provide notice to property owners and opportunity to challenge DEP designations. Sorry if this sounds anti-environmental but I’ve already stolen 500,000 acres in this state (Highlands?). Some NSSA lands broadly designated by mere possibility of T&E habitat. We’ve taken 60% of the land area of the state in Planning Areas 3,4, and 5. You can’t build anything new there. If you own property call you county planning board and find out about NSSA designation.

Mauriello pushed back effectively, acknowledged working to relax deadlines and be flexible, but new rules required because plans are so old and flawed, and don’t consider water supply, wetlands, and other environmental constraints that would prohibit the issuance of land use permits. Working on more notice to landowners. Working on maps – bog turtle habitat suitability improper in some places. TWA permits grandfathered. My goal is to pre-empt the need for the Sarlo legislative moratorium bill – DEP is making concessions. (we wrote about the Sarlo bill here)

d) Lame Duck Priorities – Smith:

Forest stewardship

ATV registration

Greenwood Lake Commission fee authorization

Restrictions on nitrogen fertilizers – Barnegat Bay eutrophication

Salwater fishing registration

Dam restoration

Next Session priorities – Smith

Focus on Barnegat Bay ecosystem (we wrote about Barnegat Bay here)

Energy bills – renewables

Dupont: Doubt (And Intimidation) Are Their Product

September 30th, 2009 No comments

Dupont Lawyers Target DEP Scientists – While Paid Dupont Consultants “Manufacture Doubt”

We have been writing about behind the scenes efforts of politically powerful polluters to exert improper influence on DEP scientists. We have called this the War on Science.

Dupont Chambers Works plant in Deepwater NJ is one of the worlds largest polluters. The plant manufactures PFOA & polluted groundwater with PFOA

Dupont Chambers Works plant in Deepwater NJ is one of the worlds largest polluters. The plant manufactures PFOA & polluted groundwater with PFOA

Today we focus on the ugly tactics of Dupont.

But, first we put Dupont’s moves in context, and then present the game plan Dupont is following, via review of a superb new book by a scientific expert in the field.

We have documented an extremely troubling recent series of events that illustrate this war:

  • DEP’s Chief Nuclear Engineer was demoted and transferred out of the nuclear safety program in retaliation for private remarks he made that questioned the nuclear industry’s influence on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission during the relicensing hearings on the Oyster Creek plant, one of the nation’s oldest and riskiest plants;
  • A PFOA health risk assessment paper prepared by DEP scientists was pulled from submission for publication under orders from then DEP Commissioner Jackson;
  • DEP Commissioner Jackson abolished the Division of Science and Research and used a bogus pretext to create a new external and potentially industry controlled Science Advisory Board. This move destroyed the independence of DEP science and a more than 20 years old effective scientific review process at DEP;
  • The former Division of Science and Research Director, a woman with a PhD and 15 years of experience, was transferred to an administrative job in retaliation for defending scientific integrity;
  • DEP issued a gag order in retaliation for DEP scientists’ release of a controversial Jersey City chromium health risk assessment. The new risk assessment concluded that chromium is a carcinogen and that current DEP standards are more than 200 times laxer than these new findings indicate are needed to protect public health. The gag order authorized DEP managers to hold completed scientific work in un-releasable draft form for an indefinite period; to restrict public disclosure under OPRA; and for intervention by political and DEP press office by allowing non scientists to conduct prepublication reviews of any controversial scientific reports;
  • We disclosed documents that revealed that DEP scientists had to run a political gauntlet to publish a risk assessment on a chemical that has spread to contaminate drinking water. The controversy concerned perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a toxic chemical manufactured by a NJ giant Dupont, used in nonstick cookware and stain resistant fabrics, such as Scotchguard.Those documents showed that DuPont was urgently pressing DEP regulators to lower a potentially multi-billion dollar clean-up liability for polluting groundwater.
  • In a hostile move, lawyers representing DuPont filed several OPRA requests that personally targeted and intimidated the DEP scientists conducting the PFOA research.
  • Dupont was granted a highly unusual opportunity: on August 7, 2009,Dr. Robert Tardiff of the Sapphire Group, which is advising DuPont, presented his PFOA risk assessment to members of the NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute. That same week, Tardiff privately met behind closed doors with DEP scientists and regulators;
  • Facing a lawsuit, DEP was forced to released documents outlining how a health study of air pollution in Camden neighborhoods was re-written to allay industry objections. The released e-mails depict a clubby, closed door climate in which the state regulators seek to assuage industry concerns even while keeping the affected community in the dark;
  • An audit by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency faulted the quality and consistency of New Jersey science, quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) and technical programs for cleaning up toxic wastes, preserving wetlands and other key functions.

Scientific tactics in this war are laid out in detail in a wonderful new book by science professor David Michaels titled Doubt is their Product  –How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health. Michaels is a professor at George Washington University, former Assistant Secretary for Environmental Safety and Health at the Department of Energy; and is now candidate for Administrator of the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Michaels exhaustively documents how industry, starting with the tobacco, lead, and asbestos industries, whose tactics were embraced by the chemical industry – has “manufactured doubt” to frustrate regulation, and as a result, killed and poisoned thousands of Americans. Using outright lies, denial, PR and then shifting to sophisticated “sound science”, industry is literally killing us.

Dr. Tardiff’s August 7, 2009 presentation of to the NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute scientists. Tardiff presented his own PFOA risk assessment to challenge the DEP risk assessment findings.

Dr. Tardiff's August 7, 2009 presentation of to the NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute scientists. Tardiff presented his own PFOA risk assessment to challenge the DEP risk assessment findings.

In my favorite chapter, The Enronization of Science, Michaels describes step by step exactly how a “classic uncertainty campaign” is conducted. I’ve seen it all at work here in NJ:

  • paid industry scientist attack government regulation and conduct dubious research to manufacture doubt and uncertainty in order to delay and forego regulation;
  • public relations groups mount PR and media campaigns to spin this science and mislead the American public;
  • highly paid legions of lawyers (“the products defense industry”) are called into action to litigate and intervene to frustrate regulation;
  • consulting firms, industry front groups, trade associations, and think tanks are formed to promote the industry’s economic interests and create an echo chamber for bogus scientific claims;
  • Lobbyists work Congress and the Whitehouse to pressure regulators and thwart regulation

Michaels concludes with an urgent warning and appeal to scientists to wake up to what is going on and speak out to the American public:

Industry has learned that debating the science is much easier and more effective than debating the policy. Take global warming for example. The vast majority of climate scientists believe that there is adequate evidence of global warming to justify immediate intervention to reduce the human contribution. They understand that waiting for absolute certainty is far riskier and potentially far more expensive  – than acting responsibly now to control the causes of climate change. Opponents of action, led by the fossil fuels industry, delayed this policy debate by challenging the science with a classic uncertainty campaign. I need only cite a cynical memo that Republican political consultant Frank Luntz delivered to his clients in early 2003. In “Winning the Global Warming Debate”, Luntz wrote the following:

“Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate. The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science (emphasis in original)….]

Polluters and manufacturers of dangerous products tout “sound science”, but what they are promoting just sounds like science but isn’t. Only the truly naive (if there are any of these folks left) will be surprised to learn that the sound science movement was the brainchild of Big Tobacco. George Orwell has given us a word fr such rhetoric. The vilification of any research that might threaten corporate interests as “junk science” and the sanctification of its own bought and paid for research as “sound science” is indeed Orwellian.

The scientific enterprise is at a crossroads.  We need to understand what is going on in the name of “sound science” and what the consequences may be and already have been for public health.  At its heart, this book is about the way in which product defense consultants have shaped and skewed the scientific literature, manufactured and magnified scientific uncertainty, an influenced policy decisions to the advantage of polluters. (emphases supplied)

In addition to the ugly attacks on DEP scientists by Dupont lawyers mentioned above, Dupont is engaged in a classic uncertainty campaign and war on science that so concerns professor Michaels.

I attended Dupont consultant Dr. Tardiffâs August 7, 2009 presentation of to the NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute scientists. Tardiff presented his own PFOA risk assessment to challenge the DEP risk assessment findings. Tardiff followed classic “manufacture doubt” tactics by challenging the validity of the animal studies that show that PFOA is a human carcinogen. Yet despite this over the top attack, not one DWQI scientist publicly challenged Tardiff’s misleading and radical conclusions. Clearly, they were intimidated and reluctant to call Tardiff out.

A single one of the above actions would be a problem.

Taken together they are deeply disturbing.

We’ll keep you posted.

In our next post, we will name names of industry scientists – including Dupont employees – that the chemical industry is pushing to control the new DEP Science Advisory Board.

New Front in War On Science – Lawsuit filed to Obtain Smoking Guns

September 29th, 2009 No comments


[Update: Star Ledger covers this story:  N.J. environment group claims DEP denial of records request violated state law ]

We recently warned of a Hostile Takeover of DEP Science – Industry Seeks to Stack Board with Cronies , the latest in an orchestrated  War on Science by politically powerful polluters and developers in NJ. The Star Ledger reported on that in a September 20, 2009 story: Scientists line up to join DEP’s controversial new advisory panel.

IMG_2703Since then, we received additional leaked DEP documents and emails which show that the NJ Chemistry Council (the trade group and lobbyist for NJ’s chemical industries) is seeking to have Dupont and Merck scientists appointed members of a controversial new DEP Science Advisory Board. Similar industry efforts to stack federal Science Advisory Boards during the Bush administration were repudiated by scientists. A Science magazine editorial “Advice without Dissent” hit the nail on the head:

The Bush administration has made some unwise recent moves that undermine the process by which scientists provide advice to the U.S. government. The applicable current law (the Federal Advisory Committee Act), which requires these advisory bodies to “. . . be fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented and . . . not be inappropriately influenced by the appointing authority or by any special interest,” is more than empty boilerplate….

Instead of grappling with scientific ambiguity and shaping public policy using the best available evidence (the fundamental principle underlying public health and environmental regulation), we can now expect these committees to emphasize the uncertainties of health and environmental risks, supporting the administration’s antiregulatory views. And in those areas where there are deeply held conflicts in values, we can expect only silence. Regulatory paralysis appears to be the goal here, rather than the application of honest balanced science.

In fact, DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello is meeting with the Chemistry Council this Thursday  to discus SAB appointments. Commissioner Mauriello, in contrast to federal law that mandates balance and prohibits inappropriate influence by special interests, has virtually unbounded discretion to appoint SAB members.

So, with some of the documents already in hand, I filed an OPRA request to obtain all of them. But in an attempt to keep this chemical industry campaign a covert war, DEP denied the OPRA request.

In response, today, PEER filed a lawsuit against DEP seeking all the documents. We are confident that we will prevail in this lawsuit and that the documents will disclose industry pressure to politicize science at DEP and protect polluters from DEP regulations.

This industry effort must be derailed. Formal industry control over DEP science would have profoundly detrimental impacts on the health of residents and the natural environment.

See below press release for details.

For Immediate Release: Monday, September 28, 2009

Contact: Bill Wolfe (609) 397-4861; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Industry Moves to Take Over Jersey Eco-Science Board

DEP Sued to Force Release of Lobbying Messages for Industry-Backed Scientists 

Trenton  – Industry wants to pack a new state environmental Science Advisory Board with its own scientists, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) which today filed a lawsuit to obtain public records regarding the industry lobbing effort. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Mark Mauriello is reportedly making final picks for the 12-member board this week after meeting with the Chemistry Industry Council this Thursday.

The suit challenges the denial by DEP of an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request filed by PEER seeking public records related to industry nominees and political lobbying for the Science Advisory Board (SAB) appointments. The DEP broadly claimed that practically all the requested documents are exempt from OPRA on the grounds that the pending appointments will be treated like candidates for employment, and thus confidential. Board members, however, are not DEP employees, nor would they be paid.

“DEP cannot make public records secret on the basis of an analogy,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe who filed the document request. “Industry has a huge stake in getting friendly scientists on the board that will make the final recommendation on public health regulation.”

In late 2008, former DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson abolished the Division of Science and Research, based in part on a recommendation of her Permit Efficiency Task Force, chaired by Chris Daggett, now an independent candidate for Governor. The Science Advisory Board is supposed to substitute for the work formerly done by DEP scientists.

Thus far, more than 100 nominations have been submitted. Industry associations have put forward scientists from major manufacturers such as DuPont and Merck as well as from engineers and technical specialists from industry-oriented consultant firms. This Thursday, October 1st, Commissioner Mauriello, who chooses the board members, will meet behind closed doors with the Chemistry Industry Council of New Jersey, the primary lobby group representing state-based manufacturers.

In recent months, DEP scientific studies have been the subject of intense industry lobbying pressure to amend or suppress, on public health topics ranging from the effects of chemicals, such as PFOAs made by DuPont, to cement dust blowing through Camden neighborhoods. The Administrative Order creating the SAB specifies a conflict of interest review of board nominees but it is not clear what specific rules will be applied, except that members are not supposed to act on matters in which they have a “financial or personal interest“ terms left undefined.

“It appears that industry will soon be providing the final edits on all scientific work done at DEP,” added Wolfe. “Without transparency in the selection process, there will always be the doubt that this board will more concerned with political science than environmental science.”

The OPRA lawsuit was filed today on behalf of PEER by Michael Pisauro of the Princeton-based firm of Frascella & Pisauro, LLC.


Read the PEER lawsuit

View DEP denial of record release under OPRA

Review the Science Advisory Board charter

Look at the ongoing war by industry against DEP science

Examine the tactics of DuPont

Political Manipulation of Science – Jersey Style

September 3rd, 2009 2 comments

The Bush administration was widely known – and denounced – for manipulation of science. Examples abound:

Perhaps the most visible and egregious example was Bush White House PR flacks rewriting EPA global warming reports and suppressing the work of Jim Hansen of NOAA, one of the world’s leading global warming scientists – so over the top, it got a CBS TV “60 Minutes” expose.

The NJ press corps press must think that such evil deeds occur only in Washington DC under a conservative Republican administration, because virtually the same thing goes on unreported right here in NJ under liberal democratic administrations.

NJ’s politicization of science is in some ways worse than the Bush administration’s. 

The Bush people were at least smart enough to do their dirty work under cover and behind the scenes. They were implemented by low level and very expendable flacks. They required whistleblowers, or leaks, or investigative journalism to discover them.

But here in NJ, high level State officials – not flacks – act with impunity. They openly act brazenly  and are stupid enough to put in writing exactly the same perverse Bush practices into formal DEP policy!

I have issued numerous press releases that document both the policies and specific examples of abuse (see links below), so the intrepid NJ press corps doesn’t even have to pick up the phone or crack a file over at DEP to document the abuses.

Let me repeat the text of these policies in one spot here:

1. Press Office Review and control over science

Under DEP regulations (NJAC 7:1-1 et seq; 37 NJR 3336), the DEP press office is the “single point of contact” with “all media“.

Scientists can not talk to media before clearance with the press office, including press office control over the content of what they say. A press office flack is in the room during any press interview or on the phone line to make sure the scientist tows the company line.

Under DEP regulations, the Press Office’s role is not to provide factual, objective, complete, responsive, and scientifically sound information. Instead, DEP regulations define the role of the press, which is to provide information  that ensures “that all Department communications with the press reflect the current policies and priorities of the commissioner“.

Any communication with media or release of any science or fact that conflicts with the views of the Commissioner are verboten (DEP employeees have been fired for this). Information and science are spun as a matter of policy – could it be any clearer?  See this link for details and all documents:

2. Policy Review and control over science

DEP has an internal review policy that governs public release of all science and data. The procedure requires:

  • The material has undergone a seven-stage review process, including approval by DEP political appointees and press officers. The DEP Commissioner must also be notified in advance of any scientific report on an undefined “Hot Issue”;
  • Even completed studies may not be “available for public distribution via print or online sources (i.e., journal and magazine articles)” until okayed by DEP management; and
  • Technical updates of the “online Environmental Trends Report” will also require management sign-off including the personal approval of Ms. Herb.

DEP political appointees, the press office, the Commissioner, and perhaps the Governor’s Office must review and approve all science before it becomes public. We have documented cases where the science has been manipulated by these reviews. How could overt politicization of science get any worse?

3. Gag Orders on scientists

Stung by a string of embarrassing disclosures and breakdowns in toxic protections that prompted Legislative oversight hearings, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection ordered its employees to keep any “potentially sensitive information confidential” and to refrain from disclosing agency data to any outside parties”until it is ready for public distribution” according to an Agency email released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

4. Retaliation against whistleblowers or independent scientists

I was forced out of DEP as a whislelblower in 1995 for disclosing widespread mercury contamination of freshwater fish and a plan by Govneror Whitman to supress that science.

Since then, I’ve known of several retaliations by DEP managers.

DEP demoted and transferred its Chief Nuclear Engineer for raising concerns about industry influence on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission during the relicensing process for Oyster Creek nuclear plant, the oldest in the nation. According to a National Public Radio interview:

YOUNG: Ruch points to the case of whistleblower Dennis Zannoni. Zannoni was the agency’s top nuclear energy official. When he raised concerns about the safety of the Oyster Creek facility ”the oldest nuclear power plant in the country”he soon found himself off the nuclear beat.

ZANNONI: One day, January 30, 2007, I was removed without reason from my position as chief nuclear engineer and pretty much put in a broom closet in the department. And it’s been like that for two years. [link]

DEP retaliated against chemical engineer Zoe Kelman for writing and publicly releasing a dissenting report on the health risks of toxic chromium in Jersey City

A comprehensive PEER survey of over 3,500 DEP employees found (read survey & responses here):

*More than half agree that “scientific evaluations are influenced by political considerations at DEP.”

*One quarter of employees reported that they have received direct orders “to ignore an environmental rule or regulation” during the past three years.

*Sixty percent of employees fear “job-related retaliation for disclosing improper activity within DEP.”

5. Secrecy and lack of Transparency

The conduct of science requires openess and tranparency. Yet DEP prohibits public release of scientific data and communications within the Department.

DEP  claims that these data and communications are “deliberative” and exempt from public  records laws.

DEP also meets with industry scientists in secret, and allows those industry scientists  and lawyers and DEP political appointees to impact their scientific work  and to eliminate findings and recommendations opposed by industry.

There is a wealth of documented abuse and manipulation of science. Yet, none of it has been reported by the anemic NJ press corps. The public – the victim of this fraud and abuse – is left in the dark by NJ media.

6. Scientific Fraud

Let me close by noting it has gotten so bad that even the  Wall Street Journal – in  December 23, 2005 page one story “Study Tied Pollutant to Cancer; Then Consultants Got Hold of It” – quoted a polluters’ consultant (you know, the guys that  DEP takes “”at their word“) bragging that his scientific fraud had saved polluters “hundreds of millions of dollars” in NJ on reduced cleanup costs.

The fraudulent research was retracted by the journal that published it (but not the DEP regulatory standard that considered it). The people of NJ are paying for that fraud with our health and environmental integrity.

Read this letter to DEP Commissioner Jackson putting her on notice of this scientific fraud Jackson ignored the science and this letter.

As my grandfather used to say – how about them apples?

Hey, maybe this is why Lisa Jackson eliminated the DEP Division of Science and Research and replaced it with a private external Science Advisory Board. More to follow on that soon.

Political Pressure on DEP – How The Game is Played

September 1st, 2009 No comments


Senator Sweeney (center) consults with Senate President Codey (right) on Senate floor

Senator Sweeney (center) consults with Senate President Codey (right) on Senate floor

First I will lay out the general contours of the issue, and then I will provide the explosive goods. The goods will perfectly illustrate the problem. So bear with me.

It is no secret that Senator Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), Senate Democratic Majority Leader, is a powerful force in South Jersey politics, the Legislature, and the democratic party. Sweeney knows how to wield that power.

It also no secret that Brad Campbell, former DEP Commissioner and one of the brightest environmental lawyers around, is no stranger to how the DEP makes decisions. Campbell has access to and knows how to influence DEP.

Former DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell

Former DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell

What is a secret (to the public) and known among only a handful of insiders, is that Sweeney and Campbell have teamed up to pressure DEP to reverse a recent major pro-environmental decision (this link is only a teaser, read on).

Typically, when pro-environment DEP decisions have a major economic impact on a politically powerful interest, those interests work behind the scenes to pressure DEP managers to reverse the decision.  All too often, the DEP Commissioner caves in to the pressure and directly reverses the staff level decision. In other cases, the deal is not so obvious because the data, science and/or regulatory interpretations that formed the basis of the original decision are revised in a way to undermine the original decision (without leaving fingerprints of political intervention). These changes then force DEP to abandon the original decision and the result is that the the corporate interest prevails (some call this “Agency capture”).

Corporate interests and political DEP managers are enabled to do this under cover of secrecy. Deals are made behind closed doors. The public, the press, and environmental groups don’t even know good decisions were made by staff, never mind that they were reversed by high level managers due to political intervention. There is no transparency and accountability in the system. (Even without special political influence, DEP data show that over 95% of permits are approved by DEP. See latest DEP permit Report here.

The lobbyists, DEP managers and political appointees, and political dealmakers like things just fine this way.

Anti-environmental economic interests also benefit from a DEP staff that is intimidated and reluctant to blow the whistle, because DEP staff know that DEP managers retaliate and that whistleblower laws are weak. Few are willing to risk destroying their career and livelihood.

That’s why transparency at DEP is so important – and why we are working to enhance transparency at DEP.

That’s why whistleblower protections are so important – and why we are working to strengthen them.

That’s why ethical restrictions to limit political abuses are so important – and why we file ethics complaints and seek to strengthen ethics laws and their enforcement.

This is why we are fighting to stop the revolving door and influence peddling at DEP.

That’s why independent public science and scientific integrity are so important – and why we fight to defend them.

Well, every once in a while, this dynamic is reversed and the bright lights of media and public scrutiny make it very difficult if not impossible for the DEP Commissioner to cave in to political pressure.

I have a perfect example of how this all works:

In an August 20, 2009 letter to former DEP Commissioner Brad Campbell, DEP Assistant Commissioner Scott Brubaker made a scientific finding and determined that:

“[the Delaware Bay] is not appropriate for a large-scale wind turbine project due to “impacts to migratory and other bird populations.” and

“the Department has determined that we have, over many years of study and evaluation, developed sufficient information regarding the diversity, scope, and importance of avian resources in and around the Delaware Bay.  Based on these data, we conclude that, at this time, this area is not appropriate for a large-scale wind turbine project.” 

This is a fabulous decision. The Atlantic Flyway Council also opposed the project (see 7/28/09 letter) and the State of Delaware raised significant concerns (see letter)

Brad Campbell represents Delsea Energy, who are seeking DEP approval to put more than 100 wind turbines to produce more than 380 megawatts in the state waters of Delaware Bay.

The DEP rejection letter had been preceded by a closed door June 11, 2009 meeting with Senator Sweeney and DEP Commissioner Mauriello. Clearly, Campbell thought he had DEP support, in the wake of the June 11, 2009 meeting with Senator Sweeney and DEP Commisisoner Mauriello. After that meeting, Mauriello and Campbell had a private conversation that led Campbell to believe that he had DEP support for the project, or that DEP objections were minor or technical in nature.

DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello

DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello

Instead, the DEP August 20 rejection letter clearly took Campbell by surprise because in an August 25, 2009 personal email to DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello, Campbell complained:

When you and I spoke, you said to expect a letter from land use suggesting a meeting to review technical concerns about the Delsea monitoring application”.Did I misunderstand, or has the Department’s position changed from what you described?…Is it really the Department’s view that private parties will not have the opportunity to collect data that might modify, rebut, or qualify F&W’s broad conclusions about the entire Bay?  I don’t want to protract a debate or impose unduly on your time, but the [August 20] letter is quite different from what I expected based on our conversation.”

So, there it is: a powerful Senator calls DEP on the carpet at his State House office in a private off the record meeting with the DEP Commissioner, the former DEP Commissioner and Delsea Energy.

But DEP scientists are not a party to the deal and object.

Campbell then objects to the DEP decision off the record in an email to the Commissioner.

Typically,  with this high powered political pressure brought to bear, such a decision would be reversed.

But now that folks are watching, let’s see what happens!

Oh, BTW – no way DEP Commissioner Mauriello would meet with Sweeney without the knowledge and approval of the front office – so Governor Corzine’s position on this project needs to be established. Will he back DEP scientists?